Pelosi On Investigating Bush Abuses: Some, Not All

Pelosi On Investigating Bush Abuses: Some, Not All

In an interview with Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi fielded a number of questions on whether Congress would act to hold the Bush administration accountable for what Dickinson termed "abuses of power." Of note: Pelosi broadly predicts that such investigations will happen. But, there is a but! Whether future investigations end in "prosecutions" or "reconciliations" or maybe nothing at all basically depends on what crime you're referring to! If we're talking about the abuses at the Department of Justice, that's one thing. But what if we're talking about, say, war crimes?

PELOSI: I support what [Rep. John] Conyers is doing. I look at it from the standpoint of a separation of powers. We believe there was a politicizing of the Justice Department under President Bush, that conversations took place at the White House that supported that activity. We asked for those documents, but we did not receive them. We asked for those people to testify, but they did not come. That, for us, is a violation of the Constitution. So what we're talking about is bigger than any specific activity. We're talking about contempt of Congress Article One, the legislative branch. I also support what President Obama has said: "My approach is to look forward, recognizing that no one is above the law." Both of those approaches are correct.

Ahh, but "both of those approaches" are sort of in conflict with each other, especially if we expand the idea of "abuses of power" from the "politicizing of the Justice Department" to a host of other war-on-terror-related malfeasance. Dickinson hones right in on this: "But Conyers is asking for more than that. He wants subpoena power to investigate potential abuses of war powers, to force people to testify about torture and find out what was done at Guantánamo and the CIA's black sites. Do you foresee a scenario in which senior members of the Bush administration are actually prosecuted?"

PELOSI: I think so. The American people deserve answers. Where we are now, in terms of prosecution of White House staff, is that we have charged them with contempt of Congress. We're talking about Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten and Karl Rove. The natural course of events from here is that the speaker will determine what charge we're going to pursue, because there are more than one. Under Bush, the Justice Department told the U.S. attorney not to prosecute the case. So the beat goes on -- it just gets worse. We don't know what will happen, because they've delayed it a long time.

The thing is, I think Dickinson is talking more about someone like, say, Donald Rumsfeld.

DICKINSON: I'm talking more about the level of a Donald Rumsfeld -- people who authorized torture and greenlighted the kidnapping and rendition of innocent people.

PELOSI: I didn't like their policies, which is why we needed to win the election -- to get them out of power. But I don't know what the evidence is against them on any specific charge. When you have a truth-and-reconciliation commission . . . look, I'm still fighting the bombing of Cambodia. I still have my gripes with the administration that bombed Cambodia before you were born, so I think it's important to bring these things out. If you have a case against someone, you bring a case.

DICKINSON: With all due respect, we've had elections before that tossed people out, but then the same people returned to power later just as Dick Cheney did after leaving the Nixon administration. If we turn the page without full examination and prosecution, aren't we in danger of seeing this again?

PELOSI: We should have full examination, I'm not denying that. You asked me a specific question: "Should they be charged?" I think that further information might take us to that place, but what we want to do is unify the American people. The American people do not want wrongdoing to go unaddressed. We don't want any Democratic or Republican administration to abuse power, and that's what they tried to do with wiretapping, that's what they did with politicizing the Justice Department, that's what they did in many more ways that we could see almost on a daily basis. And yes, that should be stopped.

So why is Pelosi so open to investigations where "DOJ politicization" is concerned and yet so quick to remind us that the Republic is chugging along just fine despite the fact that we still don't have closure on Cambodia? Let me kill the suspense.

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.


Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

Yet long before "waterboarding" entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge.

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Pelosi, in the interview with Dickinson, avers that "What [Sen. Patrick] Leahy is putting forward, in terms of a truth-and-reconciliation committee, has always been helpful. It was helpful in South Africa, it was helpful in Rwanda, and they were talking about doing it in places like Lebanon." Clearly, this stops short of Dickinson's "full examination and prosecution," which is why I feel his concern -- "aren't we in danger of seeing this again?" -- remains an extant one.

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